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Having spent my career working in schools, the joy of the year is the 6 week summer holidays. The first two week of the 'holiday' are spent popping into school to clear up the debris from the last year and catch up on all sorts of paperwork. The last two weeks are spent popping into school putting backing paper on display boards, re-arranging furniture, sorting out and re-labelling everything and planning the next term's work.

The middle two weeks are free from anything educational - time to relax, recharge the batteries and gather strength for the coming educational year.

I find the holiday particularly relaxing and enjoyable if I spend some time shopping in supermarkets. Not that I have anything particular to buy or any money to spend. The real pleasure in supermarket shopping is to see lots of adults with lots of children all shouting, screaming, having terrible tantrums and threatening to do horrible things to each other. While I can wander round for once uninvolved in everything that goes on.

I always feel it has been a particularly successful shopping trip if I see at least one example of a child having a major 'throw yourself on the floor, scream obscenities, kick, hiss, spit and try really hard to be sick' type tantrum. It's such a joy knowing that it's nothing to do with me, I can happily continue browsing the supermarket shelves. Other shoppers sometimes look on in horror or tut-tut to themselves because they have forgotten what time of year it is.

Parents are easy to spot (even if they have managed to escape from their children for a few precious moments). They are normally grey-faced, sweating, ashen with exhaustion, eyes bulging with terror and have probably developed an uncontrollable nervous tick as they contemplate several more weeks of this living nightmare.

Their children meanwhile are developing their imaginative and creative skills by finding increasingly diabolical ways to be totally annoying - anything from eating a raw fish finger straight from the packet while dropping the other 19 fish fingers all over the floor, playing hide and seek in the freezer cabinets, demanding very loudly to go to the toilet from the moment they enter the store or having hysterics because their parent won't buy them tins of Tweenies Spaghetti Hoops or Barbie Beef Burgers or anything else totally useless and expensive (which they don't really want anyway and are certainly never going to actually eat).

If you do ever happen to bump into a family from your setting, the child will just stare at you, completely and utterly horrified that you have been let out into the real world. Meanwhile the parent will always comment on how well you look. Not surprising really. It's a shame you can't return the compliment because that would be lying.

The summer holidays are the only time those of us working in early years are pleased we chose our particular profession. The enforced distance from the daily grind of young children acts as an anaesthetic, putting a rosy glow on everything that happened over the last year and convincing us that next year we will be able to do things properly. Whatever else we may be, there is no doubt that we are all are truly optimists!

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